World-Class Runner

July 22, 2020 Cranberry Local Sports

Roberta (Pickens) Groner, a 1996 graduate of Seneca Valley High School, is seen here competing in the 2019 Rotterdam Marathon in the Netherlands. After taking a decade off from competitive running, Groner became a world-class marathon runner and will be inducted into the SV Sports Hall of Fame in September.

This is the third in a series of five articles profiling the Seneca Valley Sports Hall of Fame’s class of 2020.

LEDGEWOOD, N.J. — Improbable. Unlikely. Longshot.

All can be used to describe the rise of Roberta (Pickens) Groner to the level of world-class athlete.

But impossible?

The 1996 Seneca Valley graduate’s effort over the last few years proves otherwise.

She starred for the cross country and track teams in both high school and in college at St. Francis (Pa.). After not running competitively for a full decade, Groner began training for marathons in 2011. In 2014, she moved to New Jersey and that spurred her to the world stage.

“I started running and training with very competitive runners, joined a team and ended up getting a coach,” said Groner. “I picked up my mileage, running 100 miles per week.”

She finished the New York City Marathon in 2015 in two hours, 45 minutes and 54 seconds.

“In 2017, I competed in the California International Marathon in Sacramento and placed second at (2:30.38),” said Groner. “That really put my name out there.”

In April 2019, Groner placed fifth at the Rotterdam Marathon in the Netherlands, which qualified her for the World Championships in Dubai, where she took sixth last September.

“That earned me a spot at the Olympic Trials last February (in Atlanta) and I was really excited about that,” said Groner. “I kept pace with the leaders for a while, but ended up dropping out in the 16th mile because of fatigue. But at my age, this was my shot and I had to go for it.”

Groner, who will be inducted into SV’s Sports Hall of Fame in September, gained something else very valuable from her reintroduction to running: a true appreciation for the sport.

She was urged to join the cross country and track teams in seventh grade and ended up qualifying for the WPIAL Championships a combined seven times between the two sports. Her senior year, she set a then-school record in the 1,600 run with a time of 5:17.60.

“In high school, I ran for my coaches and teammates, but I didn’t have a true passion for it,” she admitted. That remained the case in college, but it didn’t keep her from excelling at St. Francis, where she once held program records in the 1,500, 3,000 and 5,000-meter runs.

“After college, I started working, got married and had three kids,” Groner said. “There wasn’t a lot of time for running.”

A decade later, she got the itch to get back at it.

“My first marathon was in Chicago in 2011 and I was hooked,” she said. “I did well enough there to qualify for the Boston Marathon. It was full in 2012, so I went there to compete in 2013.

The 2013 Boston Marathon was marred by a terrorist attack involving two explosions near the finish line.

“My mom was right there, waiting for me, and I finished about an hour before the bombings,” said Groner. “It was surreal. I remember leaving Boston the next day in complete shock, not even thinking about how the race went.”

Groner is the mother of three boys — Bryan (16), Aiden (14) and Dylan (13).

“What I’ve done over the last few years, I hope it teaches them that hard work and determination pays off.

“It proves that things in life don’t always happen in a straight line.”

Groner is looking forward to returning to her alma mater in two months.

“It’s definitely an honor,” she said. “Running brings joy to my life now and it all started there.”